USA Today brings us the news that Google is to close some of it’s Orkut communities.
My initial reaction was disappointment that Google were interfering with organically grown online communities.
However, when I discovered some Brazilian users (it’s a very popular service in Brazil) were using Orkut to coordinate drug deals, human rights abuses and organised football violence, I was shocked.
How could things get this out of hand? Why didn’t Google step in and sort this mess out? Why did it need to fall to the Brazilian government have to bring this to Google’s attention?
Orkut, it appears, has become a bit like Blogger – a positive social space that has slowly eroded under the weight of abuse applied to it.
Google’s public motto may be to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“, what they really do best is algorithms.
But the problem is algorithms aren’t the answer to everything.
If companies are going to operate social spaces, then they have a duty of care to their user base to ensure that the space is not abused. How they achieve this is up them – but until an algorithm is invented that does this automatically, I believe it’s up to them to provide the human effort required to keep things clean.
Matt Mullenweg’s Akismet is a great example of combined computer/human effort. Akismet is a spam filter that uses the community to help identify what is and isn’t spam. Automattic (Matt’s start-up) uses the Akismet algorithm combined with the continued human-powered knowledge to identify splogs (spam blogs) on WordPress.com.
Back to Orkut, Google are now going to setup a Portuguese team to monitor the Brazilian part of the Orkut service. But surely such a move only demonstrates that human-monitoring of the entire system is needed – and other Google social spaces such as Blogger?